Leslie Murray/Cranford Chronicle
September 14, 2010

In a meeting that saw nearly two hours of public comments related to a builder’s remedy lawsuit brought by a developer regarding 555 South Avenue East, the Township Committee approved a settlement with the Lehigh Acquisition Corp.

With comments that were at times heated leading off the meeting, the Township Committee approved in a 4-1 vote a settlement with Lehigh Acquisition allowing for 163 units at the site on Tuesday, Sept. 14. After discussing the potential of a settlement in August, the Township Committee held off on a deal.

Lehigh Acquisitions filed suit on January 16, 2008, after talks over the project broke down, claiming that Cranford failed to provide affordable housing as prescribed under the 1975 Mount Laurel case which requires all municipalities to provide low and moderate income housing and created COAH. At a public meeting the day before the lawsuit was filed two years ago, Lehigh presented a plan that called for the construction of 126 condominium flats, while the Township Committee would only agree to 90 units for the vacant five-acre site on the Cranford-Roselle border.

While the Township Committee had refrained from making public comments on the legal action during the course of suit, in a summary judgment dated March 20, 2009 Judge Lisa F. Chrystal found for Lehigh, ruling that Cranford’s ordinance regarding affordable housing was unconstitutional.

While residents were mixed on their comments—with some saying the settlement should be reject while others called ending the litigation only responsible action – the division on the Township Committee split with only Commissioner Daniel Aschenbach voting in opposition of the settlement.

Calling the settlement too dense, Aschenbach said the township should fight in the name of community standards.
“It’s just not a reasonable development in my mind,” he said. “We should fight this as far as we can.”

However, Commissioner David Robinson and Mayor Mark Smith repeatedly stated that Cranford had lost the legal battle in 2009.

“This is the making the best of a very bad situation,” Robinson said. “In this particular case, given the facts, this was the prudent thing to do,” he said of the settlement.

Making the statement Smith said the township was left with limited options in ending the litigation.

“If we don’t settle there will be more litigation, more legal costs, more units and more pretending the township does not have to follow the (state’s affordable housing) law,” Smith said. “The only responsible thing to do is settle.”